Unifor national president Jerry Dias said his seven hours in jail will not deter him from battling on for his locked-out members in Regina.
“If it means they put me back in jail again I will do it because we are fighting for working people — not just here in Saskatchewan but also the whole country,” Dias said in an interview Tuesday just after being released.
He and 13 other labour leaders — seven in total from Ontario — have been charged with mischief after shutting down the Co-op Refinery even though a court injunction only allowed the union to disrupt traffic for 10 minutes at a time.
Instead, union pickets brought in fencing to stop trucks from coming or going.
Dias said he was never presented with a written copy of the injunction, which he said “was very specific in that it applied only to Local 594 and not out-of-province or national representatives.”
Under normal circumstances, he said, police wait until such nuance is sorted out.
Not this time.
“In my 40 years in labour, I have never seen anything like this,” said Dias. “The role of the police is to de-escalate but they were escalating.”
Unifor is looking into it but, Dias said, “I am quite sure I am the first labour leader to be locked up in a jail cell in the last 40 years.”
It is believed the last national leader to be incarcerated was Canadian Union of Postal Workers president Jean-Claude Parrot in 1979.
Dias said that with a “company making $3 million a day” and “more than billion dollars” a year in profit is, with the help of the courts and police, putting its workers’ leader in jail while “scabs are being flown in by helicopter,” regular workers realize what it could mean.
“It means it could be them next,” said Dias.
This time, Regina Police say, it was “Jerome Dias, 61, of Milton, Murray Gore, 60, of Surrey, B.C., Barry Lines, 60, of Toronto, Karl Deforest, 55, of Kitchener, William Reid, 53, of Scarborough, Michael Byrne, 53, of Belle River, Ont., Kenneth Anderson, 51, of Tecumseh, Ont., Joshua Coles, 47, Michael Smith, 47, of Delta, B.C., Gavin McGarricle, 46, of Surrey, B.C., Mario Santos, 44, of Pitt Meadows, B.C., Trevor Robert Lesperance, 39, of Regina, Bjorn Edwin Person, 33, of Regina, and Charles Grieve, 31, of Windsor” who were charged with mischief under $5,000 and are to appear in Saskatchewan court Feb. 26.
“Police learned that Unifor members had completely blocked the entrances/exits to the Co-op Refinery complex, not allowing vehicles to enter or exit the property, in spite of a recent court order which sets out the rules of engagement for both sides in the dispute,” Regina Police said.
Dias said while many of those charged were processed and released in the standard amount of time, he was kept many hours more than necessary. “It didn’t intimidate me and it has galvanized our members,” he said.
The same action, Dias said, will be taken until the two sides get back to the bargaining table.
But Co-op said in a release: “Unifor continues to use illegal blockades as a bullying tactic and has brought in extra people to help them do it. Today’s actions by Unifor represent yet another violation of the court injunction, and it’s abundantly clear that Unifor has no respect for the rule of law.”
Dias, who Tuesday was protesting at Co-op gas stations instead of the picket line, said the union is fighting for pension promises while the company says its interest is “to protect the Western Canadian fuel supply.”
Of course, what needs to be said is both sides should stop the war and get back to negotiating before someone gets hurt. When a national union leader goes to jail, it’s already going too far.
As I Unifor member, I declare my conflict but I also have had a lot of experience covering labour disputes in 35 years and know under normal practices, cooling-off efforts are deployed and de-escalating style warnings tried before police start arresting — like you see in First Nations blockades or Antifa protests.
These are all Canadians and a peaceful solution is always the better way.
This does not seem to be close to anywhere near that in Regina.
“They thought this would end this but it has done the opposite,” said Dias. “The plant was shut down (Monday) and it will be shut down today and again tomorrow.
“I am staying in Regina now. I am not going anywhere,” he added. “People are jumping on planes from all over the country to join us in this fight.”
As for the criminal charges for himself and the others, he said Unifor will take it the Supreme Court of Canada, if necessary. They are also looking into laying complaints to authorities about “heavy-handed” tactics used by police.
“The officer who arrested me was way too aggressive and should not have a badge,” said Dias. “But I am most upset about 50 women were being pushed around. That’s not right.”
It’s the kind of thing, he said, worth going to jail over.